Monday, August 13, 2007

The Bilingual Edge

Parent Bloggers Network asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing a Harper Collins book called The Bilingual Edge written by Georgetown University linguistics professors Kendall King, PhD, and Alison Mackey, PhD. And I said sure. Because, as you may know, we're already in the throws of teaching the Hurricane both Spanish and English. And, of course, he's more interested in learning mime.

So I was especially intrigued when I read their three major myths about second language learning:
1. Only bilingual parents can raise bilingual children
2. Television, DVDs and ‘edutainment’ like bilingual talking toys are great ways for all children to learn second languages.
3. Exposing a child to two languages means that child will be a late talker.
More specifically, I was interested in number 3. Because so far, I've heard and experienced everything to the contrary.

But these are Ph.D.s talking. Linguistically brilliant Ph.D.s (with good teeth). So okay, although it's true that I have had vast experience in child rearing over the last 22 months, I'm thinking these two might know a little more than I do about this topic. Maybe.

So, I read it.

And the book is smart.

First off, they convince you (as if you needed convincing, really) that learning more than one language at an early age is a good thing. Children benefit from academic, social, cultural and intellectual advantages that come with learning an additional language. This is probably not a big shock to anyone on the planet, but they do bring the argument home. If you're already convinced of this, move on to chapter three, where they talk about selecting the right language (or languages) for your child.

The chapter layout is something that I definitely like about this book.

The book is not a Jane Austen read, and the authors know it. It's a reference book of sorts. So the chapters are designed and organized by question. For instance, “When Should a Child Learn a Second Language?” is also known as Chapter 4. And “How Can I Best Promote Language Learning at Home?” is chapter 6. You get the gist. You can quickly look through to find what you need. So, it's perfect for those reading with specific questions. Or for those that read ahead to finish the ending of the final Harry Potter book before they even get home from the bookstore.

So in that line of thinking, I skipped ahead to Chapter 10: "What do I need to know about language delay, so-called expert advice, special needs, and my child's apparent lack of progress?"

The book came through again. It didn't tell me what I wanted to hear (see myth #3). It made my realize again what a gift bilingualism is.... and how it's a bit of work but completely worth the effort. It also made me take a deep breath and stop comparing my son to what others were (and are) saying at his same age.

My son completely understands both Spanish and English. He's not confused. The book points to decades of carefully conducted research studies point to the fact that young children distinguish early on between their two languages. Plus, it's obvious. He knows who is speaking what and when and why, and even more importantly, he now knows what is being said. He completely gets both languages. He'll speak them when he's ready.

Our children are growing up in a world that has outgrown its boundaries.

In fact, sometimes it actually seems our greatest barriers involve the 6,000 languages spoken today, if only because they block our communication.

Perhaps because there's a greater focus in the U.S. on learning languages at such an early age, this next generation will have a real shot at shrinking the world even more. And I say, the less barriers to understanding, the better.

Bottom Line: The Bilingual Edge presents learning two (or more) languages to be relatively simple and completely attainable. There are specific steps, tips and practices anyone can implement to help give their kids the benefit of bilingualism. And, more importantly to me, it was a good reminder to "chill out" a bit while you're moving in that direction.

Giveaway Time. That's right. Leave a comment here, and you'll be entered to win your own copy of The Bilingual Edge. The winner will be announced on Thursday. And as always, I really hope you win.